Good Government Guns II : My Treason

The satire I reposted yesterday was spurred by this article I wrote for American Spectator. It’s always satisfying when a piece spurs a Brooklyn philosophy professor to urge that I be prosecuted for treason……[thanks to WRSA for that photo….]

The American Spectator June, 2000

HEADLINE: Good Government Guns
Private owners will be handed semiautomatic Play-Doh.

BYLINE: by James Bovard; James Bovard is the author of Freedom in Chains: The Rise of the State & the Demise of the Citizen (St. Martin’s Press).


What is the difference between a private machine gun and a government machine gun?

Thirty years.

Two days after the April 22 raid in Little Havana, a Justice Department lawyer implored the Supreme Court to permit judges to add 30 extra years to the prison sentences of anyone who commits a violent crime with an automatic weapon. Such weapons are so heinous, the lawyer asserted, that there was no need to have a jury verdict on whether defendants actually used them; instead, a judge should have authority to throw people into prison for what’s left of their lives based solely on the allegation that automatic weapons were in the same building as they were when a crime was committed. (The case involved the excessive sentences that a vindictive federal judge slapped on Branch Davidian survivors of the April 19, 1993 fire at Waco.)

But government machine guns are different. As we learned from the Clinton administration and much of the media, a machine gun in the hands of a federal agent is now a symbol of benevolence and concern for a child’s well-being. The ensuing battle over the raid has gone to the heart of the administration’s efforts to anesthetize Americans to government.

The INS attack went pretty much as planned–the agents grabbed six-year-old Elian Gonzalez and left shattered doors, a broken bed, roughed-up Cuban-Americans, and two NBC cameramen writhing in pain from stomach-kicks or rifle-butts to the head. The only problem: Associated Press stringer Alan Diaz snapped his famous photo.
The American Spectator, June, 2000 June, 2000

Administration officials scrambled to provide Americans a deeper understanding of the stunning image. Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder asserted that the boy “was not taken at the point of a gun.” When challenged about the machine gun, Holder explained: “They were armed agents who went in there who acted very sensitively.” Holder denied that the raid occurred at night, even though 5:15 a.m. was more than an hour before sunrise. He asserted that “the agents knocked on the door once, they waited ten seconds, they knocked on the door a second time, waited 20 seconds, then at that time went into the house.” Film footage clearly shows the agents storming the front door with a battering ram within a few seconds of entering the yard.

For their part, the agents made no attempt to present the residents with the dubious warrant they had squeezed out of a low-ranking federal magistrate the evening before.

Television footage of an INS agent absconding with Elian showed horror on the boy’s face. (One cynic commented that the female agent looked like a vampire excitedly carrying away her breakfast.) INS chief Doris Meissner assuaged concerns about the boy’s well-being by revealing that Elian was given Play-Doh on the government plane that took him to Washington. Meissner declared, “The squeezing of Play-Doh is the best thing that you can do for a child who might be experiencing stress.” But what’s the correct dosage of Play-Doh after a child has faced a 30-round magazine?

In her raid-day press conference, Attorney General Janet Reno denied Diaz’s photo showed anything out of the ordinary. “As I understand it, if you look at it carefully, it shows that the gun was pointed to the side, and that the finger was not on the trigger.” Admittedly the muzzle of the gun was not inside Elian’s mouth, just pointed toward the man holding the boy. The Hechler and Koch MP-5 submachine gun sprays 800 rounds a minute–and a finger a half inch away from the trigger means nothing. The agent did not even have both hands on the machine gun: If the weapon had fired, he would have had no control over who got sprayed. In a puff interview on NBC’s “Today” show two days later, Reno declared: “One of the things that is so very important is that the force was not used. It was a show of force that prevented people from getting hurt.” Showing enough docility to be a Washington beat reporter, NBC interviewer Katie Couric made no mention of the two NBC employees who got whacked by feds during the raid.

Asked about excessive force, White House Spokesman Joe Lockhart emphasized that the agents “drove up in white mini-vans”–as if vehicle color proved this was a mission of mercy. Besides, the administration had learned its Waco lesson: no tanks or Bradley Fighting Vehicles. Lockhart implored the media: ” It’s certainly my hope that those who are in the business of describing such things to the public will use great care and great perspective” in how they presented Diaz’s photo.

President Clinton stepped up to a Rose Garden microphone to announce that “there was no alternative but to enforce the decision of the INS and the federal court.” Which federal court–the one that denied the administration a requested court order? Clinton then added, “The most important thing was to treat this in a lawful manner, according to the established process.” Established where? At Waco? Ruby Ridge? Kosovo?

The media did its part to drown Americans in political unreality. Less than three hours after the raid, CBS news anchor Dan Rather asserted: “Even if the photographer was in the house legally…there is the question of the privacy, beginning with the privacy of the child.” Within eight hours of the raid, CNN host Judy Woodruff characterized the morning’s action as “the Elian Gonzalez handover.” James Warren, Washington bureau chief of the Chicago Tribune, fretted the picture “will ignite all the crazies.” MSNBC’s Brian Williams warned a few days after the raid that the government’s action could be ” stirring up the right-wing whackos.” A laudatory Washington Post article claimed Reno had personally insured that not all journalists would be beaten during the raid.

Much of the news media–including Time magazine and the New York Times– gave far greater play to a Christmas card-like photo of the father-son reunion snapped by $800-an-hour lawyer Gregory Craig (and distributed by Justice Department officials) than to the AP action photo. The Times reported that “the newspaper’s top editors believed that the photo of the agent with the assault rifle needed to be put in context, because it was not clear where the gun was pointed and whether the agent’s finger was on the trigger. The editors decided to run that photo with an article by one of the newspaper’s media critics about the photos and how they were used.” The Times gave the AP photo treatment usually reserved for doubtful propaganda images from Communist regimes.

Times writer Thomas Friedman, in a column headlined “Reno for President,” declared that the machine gun photo “warmed my heart” and said it should be put “up in every visa line in every U.S. consulate around the world, with a caption that reads: ‘America is a country where the rule of law rules. This picture illustrates what happens to those who defy the rule of law and how far our government and people will go to preserve it.'” Garry Wills, author of A Necessary Evil: A History of American Distrust of Government, wrote in a Times op-ed: “The familiar picture of the menacing INS agent flourishing a machine gun shows us an officer trying to avoid violence, not one inviting it. ” Wills concluded, “The readiness of people to deplore ‘jack-booted’ tactics reveals the intransigence that made the rescue necessary.” In other words, call us fascists and we’ll give you fascism.

The American Civil Liberties Union was conspicuously silent. In 1995 it had joined the National Rifle Association and other conservative groups to protest the militarization of federal law enforcement. But the week after the raid the ACLU seemed preoccupied championing gay marriage and partial-birth abortion. According to the Los Angeles Times, there was a hot internal debate at the ACLU on whether to react; eventually, the organization quietly announced that it was “troubled” by the incident. Forgotten was the ACLU’s defense in the 1980’s of 12-year-old Walter Polovchak’s right not to be forcibly returned to the Soviet

A striking thing about Clinton’s Rose Garden press appearance was the hang-dog look on his face. He appeared to know full well that the Diaz photo would undercut his efforts to delegitimize fear of government. For Clinton, government is “a champion of national purpose”–“the instrument of our national community” and “a progressive instrument of the common good.” In a speech to the Democratic National Committee on January 21, 1997, he bragged: ” We ended the notion that government is the problem…. Make no mistake, our view prevailed.” Now Americans are less likely to regard government as a hovercraft floating gently above their lives.

The photo also undercuts Clinton’s attempts to persuade Americans that only government officials should be allowed to possess firearms. Clinton has been far and away the most anti-gun president in American history. Since 1993, he has signaled his desire to ban ownership of up to 35 million guns. In 1996, he championed legislation that created 100,000 gun-ban zones nationwide and he helped enact a law that retroactively turned a million gun owners into felons. His FBI created an illegal national registry of all people who bought firearms after November 1998. His administration explicitly argued before the Supreme Court that every gun owner must be presumed guilty, the same as drug dealers–simply because the gun owner should have known that guns are dangerous items subject to regulation.

In office Clinton has never made a single public remark recognizing that a citizen may have legitimately used a firearm in self-defense. In Clinton’s view, privately owned six-shooters are a dire threat to public safety, even if kept in a dresser drawer in the bedroom of a private house–while government machine guns pose no threat, even if pointed at a cowering child.

The American Spectator
July 2000 / August 2000

SECTION: Correspondence
Hang Him High
James Bovard’s “Good Government Guns” (TAS, June 2000) borders on the treasonous to my reading. Guns are bad in the hands of U.S. officers, but good in the hands of Castroites and their Miami enemies? You want them running around
popping off at each other with us bystanders running for cover? Let’s not kid around here. Waco, Miami, or wherever, these are our government agents–yours and mine.
The American Spectator, July / August 2000 July 2000 / August 2000

And so far as Elian is concerned, the only states that I know of that separate parents from kids are totalitarian and/or right- or left-wing dictatorships.
–Ed Kent
Department of Philosophy
Brooklyn College, CUNY
Brooklyn, New York
In “Good Government Guns” James Bovard states: “Forgotten was the ACLU’s defense in the 1980’s of 12-year-old Walter Polovchak’s right not to be forcibly returned to the Soviet Union.”

In fact, the ACLU weighed in on the side of Polovchak’s father, who wanted to bring the young Walter back to the Ukraine. The volunteer attorneys representing Walter Polovchak were facing the ACLU lawyers, who represented the parental right of the father to decide the country in which the son resides.
The American Spectator, July / August 2000 July 2000 / August 2000

They won the case. If you recall, the courts upheld the rights of the father. It was only the action of the Reagan administration in putting an emigration hold on Walter that ensured he could stay in the United States until he was old enough to have the law recognize his right to independently decide his own fate .

The lesson, I guess, is that the ACLU has not changed its position very much. They can be a valuable force for certain individual liberties as long as the particular liberties they are defending do not clash with their concept of political correctness. Also, the executive branch did and does have a tremendous latitude in how it chooses to defend freedom.
–Ronald Fox
Dallas, Texas

The Editors reply:
Mr. Fox is correct, as was James Bovard in his original wording, which was distorted during editing. For the record, Mr. Bovard wrote that the ACLU “had fought hard in the early 1980’s to deny 12-year-old Walter Polovchak’s right not to be forcibly returned to the Soviet Union.” Our apologies to Mr. Bovard and our readers.
The American Spectator, July / August 2000 July 2000 / August 2000


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12 Responses to Good Government Guns II : My Treason

  1. The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit January 18, 2011 at 10:17 am #

    Setting aside the whole inherent cluelessness of the professor, who apparently equates “treason” with “any dissent I disagree with,” I’d point out that historically it’s also only treason if it doesn’t work….

  2. alpowolf January 18, 2011 at 5:36 pm #

    LOL no doubt the good professor would have liked to have seen the AP photographer prosecuted for treason as well.

  3. Tory II January 19, 2011 at 5:47 am #

    Can you just imagine it. What made the govt buy H & K brand rifles ? Why not a Smith & Wesson, or a Colt ?

    Who would think to buy an AK-47 made in a former Soviet bloc country, distributed in Kentucky ?

    The day will come when we see govt agents, including police, carrying AK-47’s.

    When Bush was president he actually visited communist VietNam. Rumsfeld visited there too. Some day, if the war goes on long enough, a U.S. person will shake hands with a member of al Qaida or the Taliban.

    Or maybe they’ll use AR-15’s (5.56 nato) that fire the AK bullet (7.62X39mm). Who knows.

    Now famous two minute video: how to create your own gun free zone:

  4. The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit January 19, 2011 at 9:40 am #

    Ya know, AW, a sprawling, tyrannical, despotism is going to, by its very nature, HAVE to be based on lies in order to keep the sheeple in the herd. Thus any publication of truth will naturally have to be viewed as treason. 😀

  5. Dirk Sabin January 19, 2011 at 11:39 am #

    When a professor of Philosophy in Brooklyn of all places becomes a sunbeam for the Authoritarian State, you can pretty well know the Sunbeams For the Unitary Executive are way ahead.

  6. Bill St. Clair January 19, 2011 at 1:27 pm #

    I photoshopped an appropriate response to the gummint goon in the famous Elias Gonzales photo:

  7. Jim January 19, 2011 at 2:59 pm #

    Dirk, I figured that Brooklyn would have the authoritarians first, not last…

  8. Jim January 19, 2011 at 3:00 pm #

    Bill – that’s a hoot! That certainly would have ruined Janet Reno’s day back in April 2000…

  9. Dirk Sabin January 20, 2011 at 9:53 am #

    Nah, Brooklyn has a wide stream of neighborhood anarchy running through it . It is in the more gentrified areas…and perhaps this is why Brooklyn might be going lax….that the Authoritarian urge seems to have its most fertile ground. Full Stomachs and Easy buying power make for complacency.

  10. Lawrence January 21, 2011 at 1:38 pm #

    I love the way Ed Kent was able to instantly bring into disrepute the educational institution he represents. Did he really believe that by publicly wallowing within a larger organizational matrix he would somehow obtain the gravitas necessary to make his verbal exudate into something else? Ew.

  11. Jim January 21, 2011 at 3:15 pm #

    Lawrence, maybe that dude is now working for the Brooklyn Tourist Promotion Board.

  12. Jim January 21, 2011 at 3:16 pm #

    Dirk, you have swayed me not to relocate to B’lyn.